I live in the land of cowboy hats. Stetsons, mainly. But there are also Ropers and Sheplers and Strattons and others.
They sit on the heads of local ranchers. County supervisors wear them. The man who runs the county dump wears one. Artists and musicians in these parts wear them. Bald men wear them. Men with ponytails and beards wear them.
The male uniform in our rural California neighborhood would start with work boots or cowboy boots. Then jeans. Then a plaid shirt. Sometimes a sweatshirt. And the entire he-man outfit is topped off with a cowboy hat.
And whether the male under the hat is a slim and muscular youngster or a wizened and bearded senior citizen – I’m attracted like a curious cat to a hovering humming bird.
I’ve been a cowboy hat aficionado since toddler-hood. Whether felt, straw or leather, I find cowboy hats and the men who wear them, romantic.
My first crush was on Hopalong Cassidy. During my elementary school years I also loved Roy Rogers, Wyatt Erp, Zorro, Maverick, the Lone Ranger, Wild Bill Hickock and the Rifleman. In high school, it was Matt Dillon and of course the whole Cartright clan.
Adam and Pa Cartright wore Dakota style hats. Hoss wore the big, 10-gallon style.
The Stetson has remained pretty much unchanged since 1865 when J.B. Stetson created it with its tall, rounded crown and wide, flat brim. A simple sweatband on the inside stabilizes the fit of the head, and a small, decorative hatband on the outside of the crown finishes it.
Did you know that the first American law-enforcement agency to adopt Stetson’s western hat as part of the uniform was the Texas Rangers?
Cowboy hats can be somewhat customized by creasing the crown, rolling the brim or adding a more decorative hatband. But a cowboy hat is a cowboy hat, pure and simple.
For me, the cowboy hat evokes a world apart, with lone men on horses and long, lingering sunsets. A world of wide-open spaces under endless skies, a world saturated with both a longing loneliness and a sense of contentment.
And here I am, living in the very foothills and driving through the mountain canyons where TV westerns of my youth were filmed. I see real cowboys feeding the local cattle or driving the herds from one pasture to another.
And I see men everywhere – at the grocery store, in the bank, at the post office -- wearing cowboy hats. Maybe they’re imagining themselves on a horse out on the range, rolling a smoke or strumming a guitar.
No matter how rushed or preoccupied I am, when I pass one of them on the sidewalk, and he tips his hat and says "Ma’am," I’m transported to another time and place.
And it is magical!